Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Prince of Egypt

Continuing on this nostalgia trip I've sort of been on recently, I decided to revisit The Prince of Egypt. Being in a decently religious family, this movie was a definite watch as a kid as it was animated and did tell a classic Bible story that I was familiar with but had never seen on screen. I was too young to watch Charlton Heston's The Ten Commandments yet so this was actually a perfect choice for my parents.

How does it hold up though?

In case you don't know the story of Moses in Exodus, here it is.

The Jews are slaves in Egypt and they're growing too numerous. Pharaoh decides that their numbers need to be curbed so he orders a mass genocide of all the new babies. In order to save him, Moses's mother sends him in a basket down the Nile and he ends up in the care of the Queen of Egypt and is adopted into the royal family.

His heritage is hidden from him and he goes about his life enjoying the perks of being a Prince of Egypt.

Very quickly, you see Moses (voiced by Val Kilmer) and his brother Rameses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) together as brothers who have grown up together. Its really a fun dynamic. Moses is not in line for the throne so he's more of a prankster and laid back where Rameses has a lot more expected of him. The relationship between them is actually very good and you can tell that they care for one another.

However, Moses realizes his heritage and after an incident where he accidentally murders an Egyptian slave driver, he throws himself into exile and finds a new life in the desert.

He marries (his wife is voiced by Michelle Phiefer) and he lives the simple life away from all the memories that haunted him back in Egypt. However, God comes to him in the form of a burning bush and tasks Moses to return to Egypt and convince his brother, now the Pharaoh of Egypt to let his people go.

Now I know the criticisms that this movie may get right off the bat. People might say that this movie is hard to connect to if you aren't of the Christian or Jewish faith. And a part of that is understandable. You might have an easier time connecting to this film if you are familiar with the story and know what it absolutely means.

But I would argue that the story of Moses does have themes and is compelling enough of a story that you can watch it even though you don't have that background and still enjoy it. And i think that is done incredibly well in The Prince of Egypt.

I think probably the strongest part of this movie is the relationship between Moses and Rameses. What makes this relationship so strong is the fact that its not because of Rameses that Moses leaves Egypt. He leaves because of something their father did. Moses says when he returns to Egypt that Rameses is still in his heart and is still his brother, but they are separated by what is expected of them and what their destinies are.

And this is developed really well. If you don't have a connection of the religious manner of this story, you might find a connection in the brotherly turmoil that happens in this story. Like I said before, Rameses has all this responsibility laid on him. He's got a legacy to live up to. On a second watch, I identified a lot more with Rameses and his struggles than I ever had. I'd love to watch his movie from his perspective. Even though he's in the wrong, because you know... slavery is bad. You have to empathize with him.

And then you have Moses who comes in, tasked by a burning bush to free his people. That's a strong motivation. Again, kind of going back to Rameses's point of view, his brother who he thought was dead shows up preaching about a god he's never heard of. What is he suppose to do?

And that really is one of the strengths of the movie. This duality between Moses and Rameses, the shift from brothers to enemies in this film is done really well and that's why the film doesn't go beyond the last time Moses sees Rameses.

This could have been an animated version of The 10 Commandments, but there's only a slight mention to events after the Hebrew's flight from Egypt because that's not the main focus.

And that's what I kind of like about this film. Again, you can totally get your religious fill from this film. It definitely has those tones. On top of that, knowing the story from the Bible, I do know that the movie takes direct lines from the Bible and puts it in the film. The song playing during the part where the 10 plagues are hitting Egypt are definitely quoting scripture and kind of assume the wrath of God is coming down on Egypt.

And yeah... the whole burning bush scene is pretty religious in nature. I mean its God himself coming down and tasking Moses.

But being a story from the Old Testament, it actually kind lends itself to being more of a story rather than a lesson or proof that Judaism or Christianity is the absolute correct faith. You could interpret it that way, but I do think it lends itself to being accessible to people outside of the faith by the way its set up more like a story. And the relationship between Moses and Rameses really is the final mark of that narrative.

In the end, The Prince of Egypt is a pretty darn good interpretation of the story from Exodus. Whether or not your Jewish or Christian, its going to be a fun ride and I think anybody can enjoy it. I don't consider it overly preachy, especially with other movies that I have seen that have gone out of their way to be preachy. Its just a good in run of the story of Moses as told in the Bible.

A couple other things worth mentioning about this movie is the cast. Its an all star cast. Val Kilmer is Moses, Ralph Fiennes is Rameses. Patrick Stewart played their father. Steve Martin and Martin Short play the High Priests.

Now as a kid, I wasn't so into who did the voices for what and who played what. Unfortunately, on a second watch, its a little bit more obvious in certain places. Like when Sandra Bullock started talking, I knew from her first word that that was Sandra Bullock. Fans of Jeff Goldblum or Patrick Stewart might pick up on their characters right away. I know Steve Martin and Martin Short might be pretty obvious as well.

So it kind of depends on how much that takes you out of the experience. Though I watched it this time around with an easier time picking out Steve Martin's voice, when I thought of his tone and how he and all the other actors were giving it their all, it kind of only took me out for a moment and then I was back in. That might be something to watch out for.

The other thing worth mentioning is the music. I really like the music in the movie. They're really these large scale orchestral pieces and they really are impactful. As far as movie musicals go, this is how you string together music to make a cohesive story.

Furthermore, the people they get to sing these songs were incredibly good. With few exceptions like Martin and Phiefer, everyone had professional broadway singers come in and sing their parts and it translates pretty well. Not only does it sound like the singing voice and the speaking voice could be the same, the singing voices were very good.

My one complaint with the music is that some of the songs, especially some of the best songs are incredibly short. Its not true for all, but there are a couple songs that start and I really get into them, but they're so short that I can't really enjoy them.

Now this is coming from somebody who loves musical theater. Not everyone loves music in movies and get really impatient when a movie has too many songs. Now I guess for those people the music might be the right length for them to not lose interest and I guess if you're playing it safe that is a good way to do it. But I think some of the songs could have been a little bit longer just so I could enjoy them.

Overall, Prince of Egypt is one of those movies that you watch when you're young and you enjoy it alright but then when you're old you can enjoy it a lot more. Maybe its nostalgia, maybe its something else but if you haven't seen Prince of Egypt, it might be a good movie to check out.

I really enjoyed it the second time around. Is it a perfect movie? No, perfect movies are hard to come by. But its definitely well done. And coming in a time where Disney was ruling the animated world, its fun to find something that isn't Disney and see what they can do. I think that Prince of Egypt was a boon for Dreamworks back in the day and its worth mentioning its success in the hall of animated fame.

But what do you think? Do you like Prince of Egypt? Do you think its too religious of a movie or does it play to all audiences? Comment and Discuss below! Also follow me on Twitter @cmhaugen24 to get updates on movie news and reviews. You can also tweet me to send me your thoughts on movies I review and requests for future reviews.

I'll leave you with this. Every once in a while I put something up from a fellow reviewer The Nostalgia Critic. He did an Old vs New with The Prince of Egypt and The 10 Commandments. The results might surprise you. Enjoy!

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